How to overcome procrastination and stop putting things off

The Ogre of Procrastination is one of the largest enemies of success, productivity and efficiency. No matter how well-organized, punctual and committed we are, at some point or another, all of us get stuck in the procrastination cycle.

Procrastination is not laziness. It is more a lack of focus, mixed with priority confusion and complicated task anxiety. When we procrastinate, we put off important tasks we should be doing until it is late. Putting them off does not make them go away, though. Inevitably, when it is actually too late, we panic, realize that we wasted so much time that we should have been spending on important projects, and wish we got started earlier.

There is nothing more frustrating than ending a work day realizing that you have wasted your time in useless activities, without accomplishing a single important task. Time wasted is never regained. It is lost forever and will never return.

Why do we procrastinate, then? Maybe because we tend to overestimate how much time we have to perform tasks and how motivated and inspired we will be in the future, or, conversely, underestimate how long certain tasks will take to be completed.

Does it happen to you too to assume that you need to wait for the right moment and be in the right frame of mind to start working on a specific project? Waiting for the perfect circumstances and the magic ingredients to appear is another way of procrastinating.

Here are 5 simple tips for ending the procrastination cycle for good.

1. Try the Pomodoro Technique

If you want to work with time instead of struggling against it, the Pomodoro Technique might be the perfect method for you. This simple yet effective time management technique, created and developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, is named after those kitchen timers shaped like a tomato. Originally, entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo designed this system to focus and increase his productivity at school. Then, in the 1990s, this time management technique started to be used in professional teams, and it has recently become one of the most popular personal productivity systems.

The Pomodoro Technique can help you get over that initial mental resistance to getting into the task. To get started, you need a 25 minutes countdown timer. You can use a desktop timer, such as TomatoTimer or Tomighty, a kitchen timer, oven timer or simply the timer app on your tablet or smartphone. Then:

  1. choose a task you need to get done;
  2. set the timer for 25 minutes and start working with maximum focus, without switching tasks or getting distracted;
  3. keep working intensely until the timer goes off;
  4. take a short five-minute break and do something not work-related;
  5. repeat.

Every interruption-less 25-minute block of intense work is a Pomodoro. Take a longer break once you have completed four Pomodoros. This will help your mind relax, recharge and start your next work session with creative freshness and maximum focus.

This is a super easy and effective system and you should see its benefits immediately.

In addition to TomatoTimer and Tomighty, there are specific smartphone apps that can be used to put the Pomodoro Technique into practice. Tide is a free app that can help you get that jump on focus. Those using the Android operating system can download Clockwork Tomato, Brain Focus Productivity Timer or Goodtime Pomodoro Timer, while Focus Keeper, FlatTomato and Be Focused are available for iOS devices.

2. Tackle the hardest task first

The first hours of work sets the stage for the whole day to follow. Take the first hours to tackle the most difficult tasks of the day you probably won’t have the energy and freshness to work on later. By completing that hard task you have been putting off first, it will feel great to have it behind you. Use that positive feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment to keep you motivated through the day.

3. Break your work into little doable steps

Break the big job down into a series of very little steps, so you can stay focused on handling the next little activity. Give yourself praise for each little step completed. Doing this is extremely motivating.

4. Avoid Internet distraction

Now we are entering into the world of Internet-related procrastination. The Internet is the biggest source of distraction in human history.

If you can’t be on the Internet without jumping on Facebook, checking what’s new on Twitter and checking your e-mail every 30 seconds, you should temporarily shut off access to the Internet or use a specific program or browser add-on to block websites and notifications from the dashboards of your devices.

Prevent anything and everything that could rouse you from concentrating. Try whatever helps you get rid of the distractions around you. The more you can manage distraction, the more your productivity will increase.

5. Use to-do lists and stay on track

To-do lists are extremely popular and useful as they provide an easy way to keep yourself focused, concentrated and organized. Write down all the task and activities you have been putting off, so that you can’t ignore them.